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Indian restaurant buffets are an excellent way to experience a wide array of dishes that you may not otherwise order, from tandoori-cooked specialties to meats and veggies slathered in rich curry sauces. But those all-you-can-eat spreads can also leave you craving a post-meal snooze. That over-stuffed feeling—and the perception that Indian cuisine is synonymous with heavy, spicy fare-—is what Urban Village chef Charles Mani hopes to change.
Mani, who attracted buzz for his cooking at Babu Ji and Badshah in New York City, relocated to the Centennial State less than a year ago seeking a more relaxed lifestyle. He was cooking for a meal-prep service when he met Ramesh Madakasira, an IT engineer planning to open an upscale Indian restaurant near his home in Lone Tree. Now, at two-month-old Urban Village, Mani’s seasonal lunch and dinner menus span the Indian subcontinent, including classics such as tender tandoori chicken and crispy potato samosas as well as more contemporary dishes, all built around whole spices and blends that Mani prepares himself.
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You can best taste the care that Mani puts into his cooking with his “From the Pot” creations—curries and stews—like lamb chattinadu, a south Indian curry infused with clove and anise. The dish has subtle heat and feels light on your palate, leaving behind a gentle tongue-tingling effect that’s practically addictive. It’s also a wonderful match for Mani’s flawless garlic-and-chive naan. “We want to create layers of flavor…dishes that you won’t forget about right away,” says Mani, a native of Chennai, a coastal town in eastern India.
Mani also brought his most popular dish at Babu Ji to Urban Village, now called Urban Cauliflower: tender, lightly fried florets laced with a sweet-and-sour tomato-chile sauce that’s well-worth the hype. And you really shouldn’t leave without trying his kale salad. (Yes, really.) Called “kale moong dal chaat” on the menu, this brilliant iteration of the ubiquitous salad stars battered and fried kale, sprouted lentils, and mint, drizzled with sour tamarind sauce, cilantro purée, and roasted cumin yogurt. For dessert, order the kulfi, a luscious Indian-style ice cream enlivened with cardamom and pistachios that Mani serves in traditional popsicle form.
Urban Village’s interior has homey touches, such as old-world Indian wall designs and tables made from 1930s vintage cart rails, along with modern features such as Edison bulbs and exposed brick. Situated in a shopping center less than a mile from Park Meadows Mall, the restaurant’s cozy ambiance is heightened by warm hospitality, an element Madakasira feels particularly passionate about. He and Mani love interacting with guests, and Mani is happy to modify menu items to accommodate dietary restrictions. “We needed a restaurant with an Indian ambiance—and great American service,” says Madakasira, a native of Anantapur in South India.
At lunch, Urban Village’s menu has more fast-casual feel, sporting rice and curry bowls and naan wraps. But head there for dinner as soon as you can—the first big menu change is coming in December—to try Mani’s $39/person tasting menu. The three-course feast includes four appetizers for the table to share; individual platters laden with five “From the Pot” selections and four sides; and dessert. Even with that generous amount of food, the artfully composed dishes will leave you feeling refreshed and, dare we say, enlightened.
Urban Village is open for lunch Tuesday–Friday, 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner is served Tuesday–Friday, 5–9:30 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 9234 Park Meadows Dr., Ste. 700, Lone Tree